The preceding discussion has shown that the requirement of human performance in the imperative is the source of the categories of tense, person, and governance that will become the touchstones of the grammaticality of the declarative sentence. By grammaticality we simply mean an utterance’s capacity to present a model of reality no longer dependent on the conditions obtaining during the communication situation, having corrected by means of “shifting” elements chosen from these categories for the specificity of time and speaker.
But because we cannot discuss these categories in terms of a hypothetical imperative language, our presentation has unavoidably been oriented teleologically toward the declarative. Tense and person can already be associated with the verbal imperative, but they remain context-bound as they will not be in the declarative, without which they could not have emerged as “grammatical” concepts.
The categories of person, tense, and governance (case) are precisely those that give rise to the most familiar paradigms of the declarative and its related modes, as a glance at a Latin or Greek grammar will show. Even in languages with few or no paradigms these categories must be marked in other ways. For they are constitutive of the notion of grammaticality itself, and the declarative sentence is inconceivable in their absence. Thus the intentional structure of the declarative not only admits of the possibility that oppositions between persons, tenses, and so on will generate paradigmatic combinations in a given language, but, regardless of the morphological means employed, the declarative sentence presents a model that is situated with regard to the time of utterance and to the speaker and his audience, and where the relations among nominals and verbals are, within certain limits, specified. The constitution of this intentional structure, which we shall take up in the following section, is the result of a dialectical process generated by the internal contradictions of the imperative.
Although if we would explain the genesis of the declarative from the imperative it is reasonable to assume the inchoate existence of grammatical categories in imperative language, the intentional structure of the imperative does not require their specification. The imperative model minimally requires only the definition of the phenomenon whose presence is requested. The time of the action is not a true tense, but an extension of linguistic presence; similarly, the “governance” of the passive object by the active performer is a matter of practicality and not truly of grammaticality. Thus it is senseless at this stage to speak of grammatically “correct” and “incorrect” utterances because the only relevant criterion, assuming that the addressee accepts his role in the intentional structure, is whether or not the task itself is well-defined in context. We may as well assume that the dominance in mature language of the more explicit verbal form of the imperative had already begun in imperative language. But the greater explicitness of the verbal form does not make it any more correct.
The category of person appears at first to constitute an exception because, in contrast with that of tense, it can be said to possess a true paradigm in the opposition between the second- and third-person imperatives. But for proof that this paradigm is not essential to the imperative, we need look no further than our own language, where the third- (and first-) person imperatives employ periphrastic constructions, in contrast to the second-person form, which simply uses the root form of the verb. (Even in Greek, where the third-person imperative is classified as part of a paradigm, it contains a true ending [–(ε)τω] in contrast with the “zero” ending [–ε] of the second-person form.) But morphological evidence aside, the question of whether the basic form of the imperative is truly a “second-person” form involving an implicit opposition to third- and/or first-person forms must be answered in the negative. It is the real-world person, not the linguistic “person,” who is the true subject of the imperative.
In a word, the “elementary” linguistic forms lack true grammatical structures because they are not yet fully emancipated from their origin in the original crisis. The scene of representation is still primarily a place of deferral of conflict, not contemplation of a model of reality. The imperative and ostensive are pragmatic, not theoretical, which is to say that the linguistic present internal to the utterances is not fully separated from the linguistic presence in which they are uttered. Thus although the imperative takes different forms, these can never be grasped as paradigms of possibilities inherent in the imperative intention; their use merely corresponds to different real-world situations.
Language even at this stage is anything but instinctual, but there is a sense in which behavioral models still apply: each word is still “associated” directly with the real or desired appearance of its object. Thus not only an ape but even a rat could be trained to “speak” in elementary language by pressing one lever when a cat appears and another when it is hungry, the two levers being connected to a mechanical voice which would produce, respectively, the ostensive “Cat!” and the imperative “Food!”
Such models of human language, because they neglect the crucial element of scenic presence, are nonetheless etiologically inadequate to explain the elementary forms, and incapable of even conceiving an explanation for the higher forms. But so long as we confine our analysis to the practical functioning of the imperative, we will not touch on its contradictions and the forms generated in response to them. Our assertion that the proto-grammatical developments to which we have referred do not make use of true grammatical categories is in effect equivalent to saying that they could à la rigueur be described as accretions to the original ostensive arrived at under the pressure of “conditioned reflexes,” that is, by mere trial and error. Yet conditioned reflexes produce only insoluble pragmatic paradoxes that are incapable of provoking formal evolution.
Whence the significance of the absence of a first-person form at this stage. If utterances are to be explained as resulting from “association” with the presence of their objects, then the self, being by definition always present, must either be spoken of constantly or not at all. The most elementary form of the recursivity that Chomsky sees, rightly if taken in a broad enough sense, as the mark of human language in opposition to pre-human signaling systems, is simply the speaker’s linguistic reference to himself.
Dialectic of the Imperative (I)
The intentional structure of the imperative has up to this point been presented as a structure in equilibrium: a verbal request establishes an awaiting of performance by its hearer, compliance with which abolishes the awaiting and terminates the prolonged presence that it maintained. This indeed constitutes the felicitous performance of the imperative. Because, however, felicitousness requires the action of someone other than the speaker, it cannot be predicated of the utterance alone, whose expectations, however reasonable, may not be fulfilled by the addressee. The imperative utterance is not complete in itself. The asymmetrical positions of its speaker and hearer are not simply those of the speech situation; the hearer must, within the linguistic presence created by the speaker, not only hear but act. It is the contradiction implicit in this asymmetry that will lead to the creation of the “objective,” information-bearing declarative form.
The dialectic of the ostensive was motivated by the power implicit in the (ostensive) sign in its capacity to generate linguistic presence. Once this presence has been actualized by an inappropriate ostensive utterance, the hearer may fulfill the expressed desire of the speaker for the object designated by supplying it, whether to avoid conflict with the speaker or simply in order to render his utterance appropriate. Thus the contradiction between the (inappropriate) ostensive speaker’s power in the linguistic situation and his symmetry with the ostensive hearer in the real-world situation (where the referent is at least potentially present to both) is resolved in favor of the former. In the imperative, the implicit asymmetry of the ostensive speech-act becomes explicit, so that the speaker commands not only linguistic presence but the extra-linguistic actions of the hearer within the extendable limits of this presence. But by the same token, from the standpoint of its own autonomy, the speech act overextends itself, leaving itself open to disconfirmation or infelicity not on its own merits but at the hands of another.
The ostensive can be inappropriate if it refers to an absent object, but this is a feature of the real-world situation. The imperative eliminates this possibility by ordering the hearer to himself modify the situation. But at the same time it creates a new possibility of infelicity that has no analogue in the ostensive, and which points up the contradiction latent in the intentional structure of the imperative between the status its model of reality holds for the speaker and that which it holds for the hearer. This contradiction is not the effect of a “misunderstanding” but of the limitations placed by the imperative intention on the hearer.
For the speaker, the imperative is in effect nothing more than an extended ostensive, as it was in its origin. The presence of the referent gave him power over the other; now he employs this power, transferred to the sign, to demand the presence of the object. And the hearer’s performance justifies this exercise of power; the act once accomplished, the original “ostensive” has indeed been made correct.
The speaker’s awaiting, as this analysis shows, is not merely in origin but in function a prolongation of the deferral of action characteristic of linguistic presence from the beginning. In the true ostensive, this deferral lasts only for the instant of the utterance, followed immediately by its confirmation by the hearer; in the imperative, the same deferral of the hearer’s own activity, “instinctual” or simply self-motivated, is prolonged until such a time as the utterance, like the ostensive, can be verified.
It must again be stressed that this prolongation, which of course lends itself to exploitation by those who possess authority over others, is a formal possibility of linguistic presence itself and thus perhaps as much a source as a product of social authority. But although the imperative obtains its original force from the sanctity of the scene of representation, from the hearer’s standpoint, the awaiting of his presentation of the object is not a simple equivalent of the deferral required in order that he may understand the speaker’s message. Here we need not even speak of an unwillingness to perform the requested action, although the very possibility of this unwillingness is already a distinguishing feature of the situation. The deferral of linguistic presence itself is very different in kind from that necessary to the performance of a worldly action, which must be maintained throughout the duration in real time of the requested performance. Thus the imperative is dependent on extra-linguistic real time in a way the ostensive is not. This, the hearer, however great his good will, cannot help but experience, whereas the speaker, however well he may understand this truth, cannot put his understanding “into words,” that is, into the intentional structure of the imperative.
To say that from the speaker’s standpoint the imperative is no more than an extended ostensive is to say that for the speaker, the hearer’s performance is not a voluntary act, not a worldly act at all, but merely an element of a linguistic construction. The supplying of the object that will convert the imperative as an “inappropriate” ostensive into an appropriate one is awaited in linguistic time, although it must take place in real time. The hearer, insofar as he performs this act, is not truly the addressee of the imperative but only its agent. This implicit denial of the role of interlocutor to the hearer can be realized explicitly in a situation where a third party is present. Thus if a fashion designer showing his dresses to a prospective buyer says “summer dress” and a model wearing the appropriate clothing appears, his speech act is an ostensive addressed to the buyer and only secondarily an imperative, the presentation of the dress being simply assumed to take place upon the utterance of the ostensive.
This analysis is, however, made from the speaker’s point of view. The hearer of the imperative, however “mechanically” he obeys it, is not reacting “instinctively” but through the mediation of linguistic presence, so that his act of obedience is not merely voluntary but intelligent, mediated by a prior representation. And thus not only nonperformance but deliberate disobedience is possible. Here again there is no reason to assume the speaker to be ignorant of these facts; but the intentional structure of the imperative has no place for them. The performance is implicit in the structure, which would otherwise be simply infelicitous. Conversely, the hearer can well understand the absolute nature of the imperative; but its intentional structure from his own viewpoint, by the very fact he has a viewpoint and is not simply an element of a linguistic construction, cannot be the same as that of the speaker. The hearer can only interpret the imperative as expressing the desire of the speaker, as was indeed the case of the original “inappropriate ostensive.” His performance is for him the worldly fulfillment of the speaker’s desire, whereas for the speaker, this desire is fulfilled in linguistic presence, the performance being merely a prolongation of this presence.
The inherent contradiction between these two versions of the intentional structure of the imperative remains latent in the case of satisfactory performance. In the event that the task is not performed, however, it manifests itself openly. In effect, whatever his intention, the hearer who fails to satisfy the imperative request restores the imperative to its original status as an inappropriate ostensive. Now if this is indeed the hearer’s intention, that is, if he simply ignores the imperative and considers the absence of its referent not as an indication of an act to be performed, but as an impropriety on the part of the speaker, then he reacts as a speaker of ostensive, not imperative language. In language which admits the imperative, however, this reaction can only be understood as a refusal of linguistic presence, for within this presence, performance is the only satisfactory response to the imperative.
The hearer who is unwilling or unable to accede to the request is thus faced with the latent contradiction of the imperative situation: the response demanded by the imperative is representational for the speaker, but real for the hearer, and if this real response cannot be made, then the latter has no representational response available. The hearer thus can be said to feel the need to maintain linguistic presence, as the speaker wished, even if he cannot provide real-world satisfaction for the latter’s desire. It is this need that will give rise to the declarative form.
To be continued…